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Yamaguchi leads ladies’ night on ‘Dancing’

Priscilla Presley and Marlee Matlin also came ready to dance, while Monica Seles showed she has much better moves on the tennis court.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Most of the men blew their “Dancing with the Stars” debut Monday night, but Tuesday gave the woman a chance to show what their dancing shoes could do. While the second part of the premiere event had its share of duds, by and large the ladies are leading the ballroom battle.

The dances improved as the night wore on, leaving the potential ousters and early standouts easy to spot. In fact, if these routines predict what’s to come, one star has the early edge on the coveted mirror ball trophy. 

Starting off on the wrong footThe first woman to strut her stuff was “American Pie” actress Shannon Elizabeth. Before the big cha-cha-cha number, rehearsal footage showed Shannon struggling with one of the basics: high heals. Pro partner Derek Hough characterized the self-professed tomboy as “more of a flip-flop type.”

Once Shannon hit the floor, the heel woes were behind her, but her legs made for new problems. In a sexy high-energy number, Shannon just couldn’t control her long limbs. And, as head judge Len Goodman pointed out, her micro-mini red dress drew all the attention to that single flaw.

Despite panicking a bit after the dance and even pointing out that she made “so many” mistakes, Shannon scored a better than anticipated 21 out of 30. 

Next up was nine-time grand slam tennis champ Monica Seles. While preparing for her foxtrot, Monica’s troubles were evident — and numerous. Noting her overall inflexibility, Monica dubbed herself “El Stiffo” and cringed as Jonathan Roberts attempted to help her through the hurdle.

When Monica’s foxtrot went live, it was just more of the same. Her floor length pink gown concealed some of the foot flubs, but it couldn’t hide all the clunky moves. Bruno Tonioli urged the tennis pro to work on her core center, and Len handed out a consolation compliment about the dance’s romance.

Though she clung to Jonathan and tried to stick to her “it’s like prom night” philosophy, Monica didn’t need to see the fives from the judges to know it was bad — like, Adam Carolla bad.

With energy and age come improvementBroadway cutie Marissa Jaret Winokur acknowledged that her full frame isn’t the typical dancer’s body, but she didn’t let that hold her back Tuesday night. In a fun cha-cha-cha routine, she and pro Tony Dovolani impressed the audience, but left the judges wanting more.

Marissa’s bubbly personality, which packs an overdose of “awesomes,” “woohoos” and “yeahs,” came through in the dance, but her eagerness led to distraction and one missed hold. The rest of her moves impressed, but there weren’t enough of them. Tony, sporting the sparkliest pants in the history of the show, saved all the big gestures for himself.

While overwhelmed by Marissa’s energy, Carrie Anne Inaba felt the cha-cha lacked spark. With a total score of 18 out of 30, Marissa relied on the audience’s standing “O” for approval.

The momentum changed when Priscilla Presley and Louis van Amstel presented their elegant foxtrot. At 62 years old, Priscilla’s the oldest woman to ever dance in the competition, but her precision timing and smooth lines outshined the earlier offerings.

As Louis led her across the floor, Elvis’ ex really took to the ballroom business. Though she looked nervous at first (or happy or possibly even angry — it’s hard to tell), Priscilla eased into the first real quality number of the night, much to the judges’ approval. Len called it “a proper foxtrot,” and like Bruno and Carrie Ann, awarded her an eight.

A ‘Dancing’ star is bornOlympic gold medalist, Kristi Yamaguchi teamed up with Sabrina Bryan’s beau Mark Ballas for the foxtrot. Coming as a shock to absolutely no one, the figure skating champ already had the graceful lines and upper body movements down. Kristi worried possible problems with her footwork could get in the way, given the flat-footed nature of skating, but her concerns weren’t necessary.

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Bruno boasted that it was one of the best performances he’d ever seen in the first round. Frankly, not to overstate the point, but viewers have seen worst showings in the final rounds, so it was no surprise when Kristi pulled in 27 out of 30 points.

Winner-watchers may want to keep an eye on Kristi. If there’s going to be a female winner this year (and that’s a big if after four seasons without one), she could be it.

The last contestant to hit the dance floor was Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin. Having entered the competition with the distinct disadvantage of not being able to hear the music (though she can make out some rhythms), Marlee relied heavily on partner Fabian Sanchez. “(He) is my music,” she explained.

Fabian, who’s attempting to fill the big sexy void left by Maksim Chmerkovskiy this season, led Marlee through the moves of low-key cha-cha-cha, and with the exception of a slight posture nitpick, she nailed it. The audience stood up and cheered, while the judges fumbled for different ways to say “amazing.”

Calling the dance “life affirming,” Bruno gave it an eight. The only head-scratcher is why Len and Carrie Ann dished out sevens, when Marlee’s performance was just as good as Priscilla’s eights-all-round routine.

Compared to the dismal debut from the fellows, the women, or at least most of them, seem to have the ballroom basics down. So, who goes home? No one yet. In a filler-iffic gesture, all the stars get another shot next Monday. At least there’s a planned payoff for viewers awaiting that first cut; when it finally comes around the following Tuesday, two ballroom wannabes will go home. 

Ree Hines is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.